King County Wastewater Treatment Division's Productivity Initiative Pilot Program was a 10-year program conceived as an opportunity for a traditional utility to be managed and operated more like a private business. Started in 2000, in a national climate where privatization was a threat to public utilities, the pilot program established year-by-year goals for reducing costs and annual savings targets. It applied certain private-sector business practices, including incentives to increase efficiency and cut operating cost, an incentive-based payout to employees in the wastewater program for meeting and exceeding annual targets, and mechanisms that ensured the wastewater utility continued its high level of service and environmental protection.
The pilot program ended in April 2011.
The Productivity Initiative was developed in 2000 and approved by the King County Executive and Council as a pilot program for the operating program in 2001. For King County's wastewater treatment employees, it was a way to improve how we do business, while providing the same high-quality services to the public that King County has always provided, and doing it with the best and most appropriate technology, human resources and fiscal planning found in the business world. It demonstrated WTD's commitment to being more efficient, reducing costs and meeting the county's obligation to protect public health and the environment.
The Productivity Initiative Pilot Program identified specific levels of service, cost reductions and efficiencies over the period 2001 to 2010 that would result in an estimated $75.9 million savings for ratepayers, while maintaining levels of service to these same customers. Through 2009, $72.6 million in savings have been achieved. Savings were achieved by undertaking an intensive review of business practices, identifying and implementing cost saving practices, increasing employee involvement in business decisions and ensuring that the wastewater program received the best possible services from its partner agencies within and outside the county.
The Productivity Initiative linked management decisions about employees with labor, and it required that management and labor cooperate to identify new ways of getting business done, meeting the bottom line, protecting public health and safety, and allowing employees to share in the financial rewards and risks of operating the program more like a business.